Can Microsoft’s Free Windows Compete With Android?

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Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced at the Build Developers Conference earlier this week that it has created a free version of its currently little-used Windows mobile operating system called Windows for Internet of Things that can be licensed for free to hardware makers on devices with screens smaller than 9 inches. This is a key move by Microsoft and new CEO Satya Nadella to better compete in the mobile sphere, but will a free Windows OS be able to compete with that other ubiquitous free OS, Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android?

Up until this point, Microsoft had charged $10 per device for hardware makers to use its platform. Since the market is completely dominated by Android and Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, there wasn’t much motivation for anyone to make a product running on Windows anyway. Now that it’s free, however, more companies may consider using Windows for their products.

“Microsoft is evolving its Windows business model to enable partners to offer lower-cost devices in the highly competitive smartphone, tablet and PC categories. Microsoft will offer to hardware partners $0 Windows with services including a one-year subscription to Office 365. With Windows 8.1 Update hardware partners can also more easily build lower-cost machines — such as devices with 1 GB of RAM and a 16GB hard disk drive — without sacrificing the experience customers expect,” the company said in a press release.

Another key aspect of the improved Windows OS is a new tool for developers that allows apps to be created that can function across Microsoft platforms, including PCs, mobile devices, and the Xbox video game consoles. Cross-platform applications are a first for Microsoft. It is part of the company’s transition to a mobile-first strategy without abandoning desktops completely by encouraging content that can be used by a wide variety of Microsoft products. Developers will be able to create one app that hypothetically would work across all Windows products. It would also unify Windows as one platform across all devices it puts out.